July 2008

by Khalid Chraibi

Over the past 50 years, the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and other similar bodies presented their member States with over a half-dozen proposals aiming at the establishment of a common Islamic calendar. Although none of these proposals was adopted, efforts in search of a solution that could be satisfactory to all interested parties continue to this day. For its part, the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA) was also regularly confronted with the responsibility of telling its Muslim American audience when to start fasting, when to celebrate «eid al-Fitr», «eid al-Adha», etc. After several years of study of the legal issues involved, it reached a decision, which it announced in August 2006, to use henceforth a pre-calculated Islamic calendar, taking into consideration the sightability of the new moon anywhere on Earth. (1)

First, it retains the well-known principle of unicity of horizons (matâli’) which states that it is sufficient to observe the new moon anywhere on Earth, in order to declare the beginning of a new lunar month, applicable in all areas in which the information is received. Second, it uses the International date line (IDL) or Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) as its conventional point of reference to conduct its analysis. (more…)

Clergymen watched a missile during war games Thursday near Qum, Iran. The exercise was conducted by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Fars News Agency, via Agence France-Presse

by William O. Beeman, Foreign Policy In Focus, July 21, 2008

By now the structure of the U.S. game with Iran is clear. In the first move, the United States and Iran make some small progress toward improved relations. In the counter move, hardliners in the United States and Israel launch attacks against Iran in order to sabotage these improving relations.

In the latest iteration of this game, the U.S. State Department has made an interesting gambit. It announced that Undersecretary of State William Burns would sit at the table on July 20 as members of the European Union entered into talks with Iran over its nuclear program. At the same time, the United States has been reported to be considering opening a formal American Interests Section in Tehran. These two actions will be the first serious public diplomatic activities between the two nations in nearly three decades. (Three earlier meetings in Baghdad between U.S. Iraqi Envoy Ryan Crocker and Iranian Ambassador to Iraq Hassan Kazemi-Qomi focused on security in Iraq). (more…)

One of the most entertaining Arabic compendia on animal life, taken in the loose sense of the term for things that breathe or are thought to breathe, is the Hayât al-Hayawân (Life of Animals) of the Egyptian savant Kamâl al-Dîn Muhammad ibn Mûsâ al-Damîrî. Writing a century before Columbus discovered America, al-Damiri spins stories about animals with a variety of folklore about uses of animal products and parts. A scientist would no doubt shudder at the magical and literary focus of the text, only occasionally finding description useful today. A partial English translation was made by a British officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Jayakar, and published in two volumes in 1906 and 1908 in India. Unfortunately, this text is virtually inaccessible. I have looked at two copies, one in the New York Public Library and the other at the Library of Congress, and only with trepidation have I turned the fragile pages in this poorly bound volume. So far there is no digital version, which is a shame, since it is a delight to read.

Our author was a prolific copyist, quoting from over 800 other authors and providing a thousand entries, some simply an animal’s name and its more common synonym. Ironically, Jayakar’s Victorian sensitivity makes the translation as much an oddity as the primary work. (more…)

by Michael Woods

The United Nations Development Program, in a report published last year, described in often painful detail some of the factors that have contributed to the decline of science and the rise of extremism in Arab societies. Among them are:

Increases in average income have been lower in the Arab world than anywhere else for 20 years, except for the poorest African countries. “If such trends continue…it will take the average Arab citizen 140 years to double his or her income, whole other regions are set to achieve that level in a matter of less than 10 years,” the report noted. One in 5 Arabs lives on less than $2 a day.

Arab unemployment is the highest in the developing world.

Surveys show more than half of young Arabs want to leave their countries and live in the United States or other industrialized countries where opportunities are better. (more…)

You Tube boasts one of the largest audiences on the web. There are plenty of videos put up by Muslims and many of these are in languages other than English. On July 11 there were 643,000 hits for the search “Islam” on You Tube. But move over, You Tube, and make room for Islamic tube, which has carefully selected videos on Islamic themes. You can find Quranic recitation, debates, numerous sermons and lectures and some rather raw anti-Zionist (and decidedly anti-Semitic) diatribes. This is a significant resource, but like all websites, should be consulted with caution.

Divided We Stand: A Woman’s Word about the Iranian-American Experience

by Dagmar Riedel

Gertrude Stein is alleged to have advised young Ernest Hemingway that he’d better stick to writing postcards if he had messages for his readers. It is understandable that Iranian-Americans want to reach American-American audiences with their stories about men and women with legs astride in two different cultures. But who is authorized to question a novel with a message, if its content is certified by the author’s traditional upbringing in Iran before the Islamic Revolution?

The fourth novel of Nahid Rachlin, Jumping over Fire (City Lights Books, 2005; cf. www nahidrachlin.com), has an intriguing black cover. Above the title a pair of blue eyes are staring intently at the viewer through the eye slit of a head scarf, while the bottom half merges a floral Arabesque with the yellow-red flames of a Nowruz bonfire. The title’s reference to the Nowruz purification ritual of jumping over fire is explained in the course of the novel. But on the cover the Zoroastrian tradition is presented as a variant of Western stereotypes of both the Oriental harem and Shia fanaticism because the collage promises a peek in the otherwise hidden world of a secluded Iranian woman and her burning desires. The reader has just to turn to the back cover to receive from Andre Dubus III, the son of the famous short-story author Andre Dubus, the confirmation that this is indeed a novel about a forbidden desire. The interpretation is further reinforced by the one-page biographical sketch in the back, written in the third person singular and designed to highlight in an objective language the author’s lifelong personal experience with displacement and gender-based social restrictions. (more…)

Photograph courtesy of Dr. Dagmar Riedel

by Mark Allen Peterson

A recent book review in the journal Contemporary Islam entitled “Introducing Islam or reviling Muslims” has me reflecting uneasily on some of my own recent writing. Bruce Lawrence reviews twelve books that each purport to offer a brief, comprehensive and accessible introduction to Islam. Most of the texts are found to be lacking—and why not? I could not fit what I learned in five years of living with and teaching upper class Muslims in Egypt into a single text, much less try to construct a comprehensive survey of the beliefs and practices that is, collectively, Islam. I wince at the loss of subtleties in my classes as I try to cover the arkaan, the Hajj, ‘eid al-adha and the sebou.

Yet I recently had the unmitigated gall to write a short chapter covering not merely Islam but “The Middle East and the Islamic World” for a new textbook in international studies. With chapters by two anthropologists, a geographer, a political scientist and a historian, International Studies: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Global Issues (2008 Westview) is intended to offer a multidisciplinary alternative to the political science texts that dominate the field of international studies. (more…)

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